Not that long ago in my responsibilities as a moderator on SiouxSports.com I read a post from a Gopher fan that captured a concern about the WCHA that I have had for a while. I’ve cleaned it up for re-publishing here.
A poster called “happy” on March 6, 2007, posted (SiouxSports.com post: 236488):
The bottom 6 or 7 teams need obstruction, or else Minnesota, UND and SCSU would blow by them like a piece of pancake flat road kill. So, more than 50% of the WCHA teams never want obstruction called, ever. Shepherd is just doing what he’s told to do by the majority of coaches. It will not change, and the WCHA teams will have a problem with it come NCAA time. …
I agree. I don’t know how much more plainly I can say it. My eyes tell me this is happening. My ears, listening to Commissioner McLeod raving about the parity in the league, tell me it is not a myth.
And, yes, “the WCHA teams will have a problem with it come NCAA time”, and it has arrived. Don’t believe me? Think again.
This season the WCHA had 0.684 winning ratio (51-22-6) against non-WCHA teams. No league had a winning record against the WCHA. Clearly, the WCHA again dominated the face of college hockey.
But somehow, even in the face of this dominance (0.684!), the WCHA struggled to get just three teams into the season ending 16-team NCAA tournament.
And more surprisingly given the above data, this year the NCAA tournament brackets feature five, yes, count them, five Hockey East teams and four Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) teams.
These facts do not align, and I believe I can point to a reason for it, and the reason relates directly back to that post by that Gopher fan, and the problem of manufactured parity it alludes to.
Obstruction allows for lesser skilled teams to compete with highly skilled teams. Not calling this obstruction allows for a manufactured parity in the league. And this parity, based on his praising of it during interviews, is thought to be a good thing by Commissioner McLeod. But is it?
Denver, Colorado College, Wisconsin, and Michigan Tech were all a part of the WCHA non-conference dominance, yet, none made the NCAA tournament.
I say part of the reason is clear: They were “officiated” by the league into near 0.500 conference records to achieve league parity (and I’m working hard to avoid the malapropism of calling it “parody”). And this style of officiating is in direct conflict with the NCAA guidance of strict enforcement of rules regarding obstruction. Why is the WCHA “chicken” to call obstruction?
From third to eighth in the WCHA this year the winning ratio goes from a 0.554 to a 0.446. Put another way, half the league was, well, average (about 0.500) in the WCHA. Obviously only two WCHA teams exceeded a league 0.554 winning ratio.
But is being average (about 0.500) in the WCHA good enough when winning percentage (the majority of which comes from league play) is a key factor in the RPI (and accordingly PWR) calculation used by the NCAA bracket makers?
In the CCHA, four teams exceeded a conference winning percentage of 0.554 and, not surprisingly, those four were in the NCAA field (Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, and Miami of Ohio).
Meanwhile in Hockey East, four teams exceeded a conference winning percentage of 0.554 (UNH, BC, BU, and UMass) and a fifth (Maine) missed it by the slimmest of margins (0.537).
Why is this important? Because “winning percentage” is 25% of a team’s RPI. Washing out a team’s winning percentage to “average” in league play is great at the league gates, and makes for the ability to praise the “competitiveness” and “parity” of the league, but it harms that team at selection time in March.
The last at-large team (Miami of Ohio) finished immediately above Wisconsin, Denver, Michigan Tech, and Colorado College (in a 0.003 bonus quality win PWR comparison).
And Miami beat each of them in the RPI category. (Note: North Dakota barely beat them in the RPI category.)
Let me repeat that: Miami of Ohio had a better conference winning percentage than even WCHA #3 North Dakota, but in a head-to-head far weaker conference (WCHA v. CCHA 16-6-5), and still got into the NCAA field.
Clearly, conference winning percentages matter come selection time.
Not calling obstruction, allowing for tactics to make for “exciting games”, facilitating league parity, may be great for the gate and for the teams that can’t win with skill play. But, unfortunately, it’s also great for Denver and Colorado College this year, if you’re only talking about their golf games in March and April.
The obstruction chicken is home, in Denver, Colorado Springs, Houghton, and Madison.